The Pastorals of Virgil, Eclogue I: The Blasted Tree, 1821. William Blake (British, 1757-1827). Wood engravings; image: 3.4 x 7.3 cm (1 5/16 x 2 7/8 in.). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of The Print Club of Cleveland 1934.145
In 1820, Blake was commissioned to illustrate a new edition of The Pastorals of Virgil, published as a school text, which included commentary by Dr. Robert John Thornton on the famous poem from the 1st century BC. Blake’s seventeen wood engravings became tremendously influential to the Ancients. Samuel Palmer (also in this gallery) wrote of these wood engravings: "They are visions of little dells, and nooks, and corners of Paradise; models of the exquisitest [sic] pitch of intense poetry... There is in all such a mystic and dreamy glimmer as penetrates and kindles the inmost [sic] soul." Despite Palmer’s poetic description, Blake’s wood engravings were not images of an unchanging paradise. Instead, they record an evershifting and often ambiguous relationship between the artist and his environment. They describe a landscape of Blake’s imagination---a wellspring of dreams and artistic inspiration, yet simultaneously a land of doubts and shadows, sweet delusions and unformed hopes.